"Ring out solstice bells", sang 70s prog-rockers Jethro Tull. Not on this showing they won't. Whereas Midwinter, the 'prequel' in a mooted trilogy met with a warm critical reception, Solstice has found a much chillier front.
"How many steps would it take to turn an ordinary man into a terrorist?" asks the programme. But it's not a question that's really explored, let alone answered. In a "world blown apart by war" - a non-specific dystopia - two communities separated by a bridge, commit mutual and random atrocities.
Religious differences, centring on the issue of transubstantiation, fuel the division, suggesting perhaps sectarian-riven Northern Ireland. And, it transpires, the richer, urban community has other more material motivations.
It covets the land occupied by its neighbour; bulldozers are poised to move in as the play opens - echoes of Jewish settlers and the West Bank. All that's needed is a pretext for invasion, something which comes at the close of play.
Admirers of Midwinter noted its "iron-hard language", “intellectual panache" and "visceral charge", all qualities absent in this, the second play by author Zinnie Harris. It strives too often for portentousness. The dialogue feels clumsy, bathetic and there is no real development of character. One cares less about this world's inhabitants than when one came in. In truth the hour-and-a-half drags.
The actors do there best with thin fare as hope on stage and offstage alike evaporates. Tom Piper's sparse set, dangling light bulbs, reddish slabs, are the best thing about this production which is also directed by Harris.
- Pete Wood